For a moment in the summer of 2020, it felt like the U.S. was on the brink of a revolution. Mass unemployment, coupled with the global coronavirus pandemic and the fatal police shootings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, had the streets hot nationwide. 

Politicians co-opted progressive language from organizers in the Black liberation movement for their campaigns, hoping to win over minority voters — and did. The issues they championed to get those votes are now an afterthought. 

Now nearly two years removed from that moment, President Joe Biden put the notion of a revolution to rest with his first State of the Union Address on March 3. Student loan debt forgiveness was noticeably absent from his address despite Biden campaigning to forgive $10,000 for all borrowers. 

Biden also emboldened law-and-order politicians with his speech, “We should all agree the answer is not to defund the police. It’s to fund the police. Fund them. Fund them. Fund them with the resources and training — resources and training they need to protect our communities.” 

Cities across the country pulled an about-face on their stances to defund the police in 2021. In fact, leaders in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles have upped the funding for police departments.

March 7 marked the start of the 2022 midterm election season in Illinois. It was the first day for political candidates to file their petitions to run in the 2022 Illinois primary on June 28. The 2022 Illinois general election will take place on Nov. 8. In Chicago; the first day to apply to vote by mail for the June primary is March 30. Here is the application to vote by mail. 

As political advertisements ramp up between now and November, it’s important to keep an eye on the talking points of each candidate, their campaign promises and how their campaign promises align with their speeches and actions. Historically, mid-term elections have had a low voter turnout, but in 2018, voter turnout was 60% in Cook County, an increase from 49% in 2014, and statewide turnout was a little over 57%, up from 49% in 2014. 

According to Westside Justice Center executive director Tanya Woods, the midterms have consequences, and the ripple effects of every mid-term election are felt on every level of government across the U.S.

“We have got to stop looking at mid-term and presidential races as independent, siloed election cycles. One season feeds the other. Judicial races inform state legislative races, congressional races inform gubernatorial races,” Woods wrote in an email to The TRiiBE

The 2022 mid-term election ballots will include state constitutional offices, including governor, lt. governor, secretary of state, comptroller treasurer, all Illinois General Assembly seats (state senators and state representatives), U.S. representatives in Congress and the U.S. Senate and all judges statewide. These same seats will also be open in other states’ midterm elections this November.  

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In Cook County, there will be elections for the president of the Cook County Board of Commissioners, County Clerk, County Treasurer, County Sheriff, County Assessor, all County Commissioners, all County Board of Reviewer, Water Reclamation District Commissioners, and Township Committeepersons.

“What goes down in Georgia will directly impact what happens in Illinois. Who gets elected in Virginia will impact what happens in California. They all work together,” Woods continued.

With so much at stake, what are some of the issues Black voters should pay close attention to during the 2022 midterm elections? 

The TRiiBE reached out to Chicago residents on this topic. Each person pointed to employment, infrastructure, investment in Black communities, crime, affordable housing, and education as a few areas that should be considered this election cycle. 

Below, we take a deeper look at each of those issues.

1. CRIME

Since the start of the 2020 summer uprisings, there’s been a strong political focus on crime. According to a 2021 report from the FBI, the estimated number of violent crimes increased. In 2020, violent crime was up 5.6 percent from 2019. In Chicago alone, there were more than 700 homicides in 2021, according to the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot and CPD Supt. David Brown believe that people charged with violent crimes should not be released on electronic monitoring. They’ve placed blame for ongoing violent crimes in Chicago on Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx and her support of bail reform. 

“There’s a relationship between the outbursts [referring to crime] and the increase in crime and poverty. I think the two of them go together and that would include, of course, poor housing, horrible education in the public schools in the city of Chicago, and across Illinois,” said Robert Starks, professor emeritus of Political Science and the director of the Harold Washington Institute for Research and Policy Studies at Northeastern Illinois University’s Center for Inner City Studies.

As evidenced by Biden’s State of the Union speech, many politicians and Americans alike see police as the answer to the increase in crime. The tide is shifting from the 2020 #DefundThePolice campaign to pouring more dollars into police departments. In Chicago last year, Lightfoot increased the police budget to $1.9 billion, up from $1.7 billion in 2021 despite calls from organizers and activists to defund the police.

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However, activists and organizers within the ongoing Black liberation movement are still advocating for disinvestment in policing, and instead investing those dollars in uplifting communities hardest hit by violence and poverty. Many cite that police don’t prevent or solve crimes. During an end-of-year CPD press conference, Supt. Brown said the homicide clearance rate was around 50 percent in 2021.

“How do we effectively address rising crime without necessarily hiring more police,” asked Lionel Kimble, an associate professor of history at Chicago State University. “We all know that hiring more police won’t necessarily help solve the problem. [The solution is] providing resources for our young people so they get an alternative to do things that are more positive and productive to do to make them feel like they’re valuable members of society.”  

For example, GoodKids MadCity (GKMC) has been organizing support for its Peacebook Ordinance for the past two years. The ordinance would allocate two percent of CPD’s police budget to community-run services such as violence interruption, education, mental health programs and more. 

The ordinance still hasn’t been introduced to the Chicago City Council. In a separate story about a police shooting in Hyde Park published by the TRiiBE on Jan. 20, GKMC member Miracle Boyd told the TRiiBE that the ordinance has the support of Alds. Pat Dowell (3rd),  Sophia King (4th), Leslie Hairston (5th), Roderick Sawyer (6th), Jeanette Taylor (20th), Byron Sigcho Lopez (25th), Rossana Rodriguez Sanchez (33rd) and Andre Vasquez, Jr. (40th).

2. EMPLOYMENT

The COVID-19 pandemic hit Black Chicago hard. After the first month of the pandemic, Black Chicagoans accounted for 72% of the city’s death toll despite making up only 30% of the city’s population. Additionally, the unemployment rate among Black Illinoisians has risen since the start of the pandemic.  In 2018, the unemployment rate for Black people statewide was at 9.1%; by January 2021, it was at 11.3% statewide. 

“In our communities, there’s always been this need for high-paying, entry-level jobs with a livable wage. That’s always been the big thing with Chicago, this is a very expensive city,” Kimble said. He added that gentrification is pushing Black people out of the city, but said access to jobs with livable wages is one solution to improve economic conditions made possible through infrastructure projects. 

Alongside other states in the nation, Illinois got a big boost from the federal government in 2021 to fund infrastructure projects, such as repairing and rebuilding roads and bridges, improving public transportation, broadband internet access, and more. In November 2021, Congress passed the $1.2 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal. Illinois will receive nearly $18 billion from the federal government. 

This year, Illinois will begin receiving $1.4 billion over five years to repair bridges in poor condition made possible through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal. The federal investment adds to Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s major infrastructure bill that he signed into law in August 2021. The Rebuild Illinois capital plan will invest $45 billion in the state’s roads, bridges and railways, along with other critical projects over the next six years. 

West Side residents attend a Community Safety Town Hall meeting hosted by Mayor Lori Lightfoot and her administration in March 2022. Photo by Alexander Gouletas for The TRiiBE ®

“Those infrastructure projects have to and must include African-American workers. We can no longer have cases where infrastructure [and] construction jobs are open to every ethnic group, but African Americans,” Starks said. “When you go throughout Chicago, in an African-American neighborhood, the people that are working on those sites are non-African Americans.”

Some communities across the city lack access to reliable internet, yet another area of inequity that the COVID-19 pandemic brought to light. A 2020 report by Kids First Chicago and the Metropolitan Planning Council found that “one in five children under the age of 18 lack access to broadband and are primarily Black or Latinx.” 

Lightfoot introduced Chicago Connected, which offered free broadband to 100,000 homes Chicago Public School students in June 2020

3. EDUCATION

The COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with the 2020 summer uprisings, exposed inequities within public education in Chicago and across the U.S. Not only did some students lack access to the internet day-to-day, but there was also concern about the presence of police and health safety in schools.

Catlyn Savado is a 14-year-old freshman at Percy L. Julian High School on the Far South Side. Although she isn’t old enough to vote, she’s been very vocal in expressing concerns around Chicago Public Schools (CPS) officials’ handling of the pandemic and police in schools. 

Savado is immunocompromised and is worried about the direction the school district, city, and state is taking as it relaxes COVID-19 mitigations. She said she doesn’t expect the district to keep students safe. She believes that her individual school community will ensure that everyone remains safe. 

“Honestly, I don’t wanna see anything from the district as I don’t expect institutions and systems to take care of us, or keep us safe. I believe community keeps us safe and cared for,” she wrote in a text message to The TRiiBE

On March 14, CPS schools shifted to mask-optional for schools and staff. This news came just a week after Lightfoot lifted the city’s mask and vaccination mandates on Feb. 28.

Back in January, there was a conflict between the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and CPS leadership over students and staff members returning to in-person learning after winter break as COVID-19 cases were spiking due to the omicron variant. 

On Jan. 4, 73 percent of the CTU’s 25,000-plus membership voted to temporarily switch from in-person to remote learning, resulting in the cancellation of in-person learning for four days. Finally, both sides came to an agreement on Jan. 12 and adopted a health and safety agreement

One part of the agreement was to keep mask-wearing in place for the remainder of the school year. CTU said CPS’ move to mask-optional goes against that agreement. The union filed an unfair labor practice charge against the city on March 8. Last week, the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board rejected CTU’s move to temporarily block the district’s optional mask mandate

Savado led the CPS student walkout in January where students demanded better options for learning during the COVID-19 pandemic amid the conflict between CTU and CPS.

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“As a student, the way that I learned and the way that I sit in classrooms now is definitely different than the way that I did before the pandemic,” said Savado, who was in sixth grade when the pandemic began in 2020. 

“I’m still stuck in, like, my sixth-grade self. I haven’t learned anything since, like, sixth grade [to be] completely honest,” she said. “So with the learning structures, are we accommodating the needs of young people? Are we treating people like humans, specifically Black young people?”

During the summer 2020 uprisings, Savado participated in the #CopsOutCPS campaign, where youth organizers in CPS demanded that CPD officers — who served as School Resource Officers (SROs) — be removed from school campuses. 

Northside College Prep in North Park was the first Local School Council (LSC) in the district to vote to remove SROs from its school on July 7, 2020. In the end, more than 70 high-school LSCs voted, but only 17 LSCs approved ousting their SROs, according to Chalkbeat Chicago.

Percy L. Julian High School’s LSC voted to keep SROs on its campus in 2020, according to CPS data.  However, the LSC at Julian did not have the minimum number of LSC members to conduct the vote. The district required schools without a quorum to poll the local school community to weigh in on the decision too. 

“When we talk about safety and what the safety was like in the building, whether that’s COVID-19 safety, or whether that’s physical safety, you need to talk about police and policing and how we undo those structures, or we talk about what are alternatives to those,” Savado said.

Savado said that she’s been thinking of other alternatives to SROs, such as having mental healthcare practitioners available in schools. 

“Many predominantly Black CPS schools still have police at our schools. But we don’t have nurses and social workers that CTU has been fighting,” she added.

4. AFFORDABLE HOUSING

Another important issue for Black voters to pay attention to is affordable housing. The COVID-19 pandemic knocked the housing market into shambles. A 2020 report from Housing Action Illinois found that minimum wage workers can’t afford to rent a home at a fair market rate without spending more than 30 percent of their income doing so. 

A household would need to earn more than $44,000 annually to afford the average fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment in 2020, which was $1,108 in Illinois. As of December 2021, the average rent for a one-bedroom was $2,180, a 3.3 percent increase from 2020. The price for a two-bedroom apartment was $3,242, a 7.3 percent increase from 2020, according to data from Rent.com.

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Because of the pandemic, the market is inflated. There is not a shortage of units for people to live in. How they are priced and who gets them is the problem. Housing is of particular concern for the housing insecure and people returning home from incarceration,”  Woods wrote in an email to The TRiiBE

Access to affordable housing has long been an issue for Black and brown residents in Chicago, and the pandemic magnified it. In early 2020 Gov. Pritzker ordered a moratorium on evictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He lifted the moratorium in October 2021. 

“So many of our neighbors on the South and West sides are undergoing gentrification block by block, and we’re being —by and large— priced out of the city,” Kimble said. “I think that jobs and housing costs go hand in hand. Without adequate jobs, we can’t afford to pay the rent. We can’t buy homes. We can’t create generational wealth.” 

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect the number of homicides in Chicago.

is a multimedia producer for The TRiiBE.